David Blackburn

Brown faces another backbench revolt  

Brown faces another backbench revolt  
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Despite protesting to the contrary, it turns out the government have been cutting all along. The Times reports that, buried in the small print of the budget, there is a commitment to abolish the £780 per year surplus housing benefit allowance, which encourages families to pay their rent and trade quality of accommodation for cash. These changes come into force on April 1, probably a month before the election.

Labour backbenchers condemn the saving, worth £160 million per year, and plan to table amendments. Frank Field, who draws a comparison between this cut and the 10p rate revolt, tells the Times:

 “At one stroke, they get rid of a reform aimed at getting flexibility into a fairly inflexible market by giving people incentives to shop around. The timing for this could have been decided in Conservative headquarters.”

Necessary though cuts are, this proposal seems ill-advised. The surplus is one of the few benefits that encourages market competition, enterprise and offers a route out of poverty by rewarding families who sacrifice comfort to increase their disposable income. It will also leave the poorest in society facing a 20 per cent cut in income, according to the Times. And, £160 million is scarcely a drop in the ocean, especially when primary care trusts could still save £5b now. The 10p fiasco did Brown untold damage in the country and among Labour MPs, but at that time Brown’s authority in cabinet was markedly better than it is now – it was his handpicked cabinet for a start.   At the moment, suggesting that the PM is the first among equals is to suspend disbelief. Last week’s Mail on Sunday featured quotations of Alistair Darling briefing against “that man’s” inability to recognise the need to drop the “Tory cuts versus Labour spending” conceit. It will be intriguing to see if the cabinet allows the Prime Minister to enact a cut that blocks an exit out of long-term poverty and further damages Labour’s electoral chances among its core vote.